An Election to Watch: Presidential Campaign finally launched in the DRC amidst fears for Regional Stability.

Colombe de Grandmaison is studying for an MA in International Peace and Security with a particular focus on Insurgency Movements and Human Rights in West Africa and Latin America. Her latest article analyses the upcoming Presidential Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo and their implications for Regional Security.

On November 22nd, 2018, the campaign for the upcoming presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially opened. This election to replace incumbent President Joseph Kabila, who is forbidden by the Constitution to run for a third mandate, was originally meant to take place in 2016. However, his Government at the time declared a sixteen-months delay to finalize voter registration. The electoral commission then declared later in 2016 that the election would not take place until July 2017,[1] which led to violent protests in the DRC, repeatedly pushing back the possibility to coordinate a vote. The political crisis caused by this failure to organise elections has led to rising instability across the country, with the emergence of new insurgency movements in a country already striven by sectarian conflict. This election, which is supposed to take place on December 23rd, 2018, therefore represents a beacon of hope for the country’s citizens.

However, the DRC is still facing many challenges in organising the election. The government is indeed dedicated to using electronic voting machines. There still is no consensus around the use of these machines, as some of the twenty-one candidates argue that they are neither legal nor trustworthy. Furthermore, the 500,000 electoral agents who will be in charge of coordinating the vote through these machines are yet to be trained, and the machines have not even arrived in all constituencies. Other issues might impede the smooth functioning of the election, such as a lateness in the publication of electoral lists, and in the accreditation of observers.[2] In these conditions, a peaceful and transparent election seem highly unlikely. The history of violent political protests and repression in the DRC raises serious questions about the ability of the Kabila government to conduct this election at all. If a new President is actually elected, he will still face many challenges in restoring stability in the DRC, which in turn could have serious repercussions in the region.

Neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and the Central African Republic (CAR) have indeed been suffering from the spillover of ethnic conflicts and insurgency movements in the DRC. The porosity of borders and the inability of the Congolese government to effectively control its territory have deeply impacted the stability and security of these neighbours. Some of these states are even directly implicated in the internal conflict, such as Rwanda funding the RCD-Goma (Rally for Congolese Democracy) in its campaign against the central government. Furthermore, the alienation of Congolese of Rwandan and Burundian descent plays into the regional dimension of the conflict in the DRC. Solutions must thus be designed with a regional outlook in mind.[3]

Therefore, this electoral campaign need to be closely monitored, as there is little doubt that its outcome will have serious impacts on central Africa’s stability. Assuming the election really takes place, the new government will need to work closely with its neighbours to deal with the tremendous challenges the DRC faces: multiple insurgency movements with regional spillovers, and restoring control over the country’s economy.

[1] https://www.rtbf.be/info/monde/afrique/detail_congo-l-election-presidentielle-n-aura-pas-lieu-avant-2017?id=9384056

[2] http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20181122-rdc-campagne-electorale-lancee-fond-incertitudes

[3] http://repository.uneca.org/bitstream/handle/10855/22687/b11546694.pdf

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